Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reader's Diary #192- Peter Van Toorn (editor): Sounds New (up to Phil Muscovitch's "Water")

The title of this particular collection is Sounds New not Sounds New Age. In my last posting however, I implied that it was full of new age nuances. I still hold that a number of these poems fit under a new age umbrella, just as much as they fit under a "transcendental" label. At first that made me a little squeamish about the poems. To me, the term "new age" conjures up images of flaky fad followers looking for the next cereal box religion. Yet when I read the "new age" wikipedia article, I realized that I'm not all that far from new age beliefs my own self! Don't worry, I won't be ordering any Yanni cds yet, but I realized that my mind needs some opening.

I also realized that as I'm reading through this book, I've caught myself thinking, "Oh geez, what would Robert Frost think of these?" and I have no idea why I do this. I'm not a huge Robert Frost fan (though I do like his work) so why I use him as a benchmark for poetry, I have no idea. Ingrained snobbery I guess. New and Used Records blogger, Will posted about the liberating aspect of the "art is dead" opinion. The argument is that a definition of art no longer exists, and basically it now belongs to anyone. While Will waxed philosophical about how all this applies to punk music, I think poets have benefited from the approach as well.

Since the 1800s Walt Whitman and others have opened poetry up to freestyle to much debate, yet the freedom has now become the norm rather than the exception. Recently there's been a resurgence in form poetry, and like music, poetry finally seems to embracing variety. There's a value to both, just as there's value to rock and jazz and punk and polka. Okay, so maybe not polka.

So if free form poetry isn't new, what makes the poems in this particular book new? Certainly there's a bigger insistence on transcendence and there's a much more obvious attempt from these poets to mesh the material world with the spiritual world, yet the underlying theme isn't new. I'd argue that poets have been doing that from the get go. Only this time, the transparency of the endevour gets annoying. I try and try to open my mind, but again I come up against my "new age" prejudice. One exception to this is Michael Anderson's "The music of the spheres is jazz". In this couplet poem, Anderson uses the stars and jazz to create a magic, romance-filled night. He doesn't beat the reader over the head with his point as many of the others do in this collection, yet I still feel he manages to make the connections between the spheres, as it were. Jazz as a representation of love and maybe even the creation of the universe? It follows complex rules, yet relies on improvisation. Sounds in line with my theory.

But it's not all transcendence which makes these poems "sound new". There's also the occasional burst of vulgarity and cheap shock tactics. Shock art, or rather what is labeled as "shocking" rarely is. Usually it's a slow news day and some brainless entertainment show is telling us how shocked we should be that Britney has kissed Madonna or that some South American artist has painted a picture of Jesus shooting heroin. Unfortunately, we sometimes judge dated material by today's standards and end up thinking works like Cohen's Beautiful Losers is boring in its lame attempts to electrify our mundane existence. Yet, we need to remember context. Back in the 60's Cohen was breaking taboos. Sounds New however, was first published in 1990, and if memory serves Jane's Addiction had declared Nothing's Shocking a few years earlier. So when I read poets like Ian Stephens write "I pull out my cock/ I tie a boot-lace around my balls" or William Scott Neale write "I am the tongue on your ass-hole" I immediately yawn and walk away. Actually that's not true. I am offended. I am not offended by the content (or imagery), I'm offended by the smug attitude that shouts in my face, "I'm more open minded and liberal than you, conservative pig!" Why the hell do they always seem to make that assumption? They're writing, for the most part, for poets! Generally a pretty liberal group anyway. Most likely it'll never be read at the next Pentecostal convention, so why bother? Heck, even if it was, why bother? Is shocking someone you obviously feel morally superior over really all that of a kick?

Anyway, I've rambled, I've ranted, I've gotten a little off topic. I should go.


John Mutford said...

Ooops. I just realized I had referenced Jane's Addiction's "Nothing Shocking" once before on this blog. I guess it's also not shocking that in a year of blogging, I'm already repeating myself.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What is shocking is that it would take you a year to repeat yourself. I do so every couple of weeks.

Excellent rant! "Is shocking someone you obviously feel morally superior over really all that much of a kick?" And that is an excellent question for debate.

John Mutford said...

Debate would be good. Get the old stats counter up a bit.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think it's a natural tendancy to want to shock someone to whom you feel morally superior. Or maybe it's just me. However, they are terribly easy targets, I agree.

But isn't there something about certain groups/individuals that makes you want to say something outrageous to them?

John Mutford said...

For the most part, no. I'm not a terribly antagonist person (though I'm sure they're are those who would snicker at my saying that). That said, there's a difference between "shock" and "speaking one's mind", I have no problems with the latter. Unless of course, it's unsolicited advice. Geez, there's just so many fine lines, eh?

John Mutford said...

Ooop's "there", not "they're".

Philip Moscovitch said...

It's spelled Moscovitch, not Muscovitch.

I'm glad someone still has a copy of that book kicking around, whether transcendent or not.

John Mutford said...

Ooops, sorry!

Btw, hasn't the book been republished? If so, I imagined there's a few more copies out there.

Philip Moscovitch said...

I'm surprised to see the book back in print.

You know, Bill Neale, I, and a lot of the other writers in that book were so young. Peter van Toorn gave us a good break.

It probably helped me along in becoming a writer.

I don't know if you heard, but Ruth Taylor, whose work you enjoyed, passed away last year:

And a note to William Scott Neale (aka Billy Neale): if you ever Google yourself and wind up on this page (as I did, Googling you), get in touch!

John Mutford said...

I'm glad Toorn gave young writers a break. As a novice myself, I should really keep that in mind as a continue burning bridges with my rants. Speaking of alienating people, if Billy does come upon this blog, I guess I'm in trouble, eh?

And yes, I heard Taylor had passed away. I had already read the article you had sent. An interesting life for sure, too bad.

Philip Moscovitch said...

Big, big trouble John.

It was 20 years ago though. I doubt it would bother him much. He could be pretty hard on his own work.

John Mutford said...

Holy crow, I keep making typos. Billy can start his revenge by tearing those apart.

Anyway, best of luck finding him. If you'd like to keep me informed, I'd love to hear if you are successful in tracking him down.

John Mutford said...

A typo inventory from these comments alone:

1. from Nov. 24- "antagonist" should be "antagonistic"

2. also from Nov. 24- "ooop's" should be "ooops"

3. from April 24- "as a continue" should be "as I continue"

and pronably more if I checked hardet. Not too mentiom the facy that I speled Moscovitch wrong. I'm so embarrassed,